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Seoul Free Transit Tour

Have a long layover at Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN)? Lucky you! It’s one of the best airports in the world. There’s free massage chairs, places to sleep, numerous quality restaurants, cultural performances and activities, and much more.

But the highlight of our recent 15 hour layover in Incheon was the Free Transit Tour offered by the airport. If you take the five hour City Tour 1 or 3 it costs about US$10 each, which includes an amazing lunch, entrance fees, and transport into Seoul and back (about 1 hour) on a nice bus. The other tours are completely free!

Itinerary as of March 2016

(Click to enlarge)

Korea Free Transit Tour

Tour Options

Here are the options for the tours as of March 2016. Click on a tour below to see the description from the actual brochure.

1 Hour – Yonggungsa Temple Tour

2 Hour – Incheon Temple Tour

3 Hour -Incheon City Tour

4 Hour – Songdo City Tour

5 Hour – Seoul City Tour 1 – Gyeongbok Palace, Insadong Street

5 Hour – Seoul City Tour 2 – Bukchon Hanok Village, Kwangjang Market

5 Hour – Seoul City Tour 3 – Changdeok Palace, Samcheong dong

5 Hour – Seoul City Tour 4 – Myeongdong, N Seoul Tower

Signing up for the tour

In order to sign up for a tour you need to be at the Free Transit Tour kiosk at specific times when there is an employee to help you. As of March 2016 the times are each half hour from 7:00AM to 2:30PM (7:00, 7:30, 8:00 etc). Note that this is not the time of the tours, only the times when you can arrange the tours!

There are numerous kiosks throughout the airport, here’s what they look like.

Incheon Transit Tour Kiosk

As you can see they can be easy to miss. The helpful employees at the numerous Information desks can direct you to the nearest one.

If you have a long layover, arrange your trip as soon as you can as they fill up and are first come, first serve! I showed up right at 7:00. The wonderful friendly employee gave me a form or two to fill out and told us to meet back at the kiosk at 8:30 for our tour that started at 10:00 to make sure we get a spot.

Important things to note:

  • You can do more than one tour if you have a long layover. Ask the Korean Transit Tour employee and they will help you arrange the best tours to pair up.
  • You can stay in Seoul after the tour ends if you find your own way back to the airport (taxi, train, bus etc.), just let the tour guide know you are planning on this so they don’t think you’re left behind.
  • Bring some extra cash for amazing Korean souvenirs. Some vendors charge more if you use a credit card (click here for current USD to Korean Won conversion).
  • We were directed past immigration to the Korea Transit Tour desk in the Arrival Hall Floor 2. We paid the tour fee and withdrew a bit of cash for souvenirs
  • There are lots of restaurants in this area if you need to grab a snack before the tour. They don’t allow eating or drinking on the bus (water is okay).
  • If you have carry on or hand luggage, you can store them safely in the bus luggage compartment during your tour.
  • The trip into Seoul takes about an hour, but the bus is clean and comfortable.

Click below to see the Free Transit Tour Brochure as of March 2016.

Incheon Transit Tour Brochure 1

Free Transit Tour Brochure Inside 1

Incheon Transit Tour Brochure 2

Free Transit Tour Brochure Inside 2

Incheon Transit Tour Brochure 3

Free Transit Tour Brochure Outside 1

Incheon Transit Tour Brochure 4

Free Transit Tour Brochure Outside 2




Highlights from Seoul City Tour 3

Check out this video of us on the free transit tour, and while you’re at it, subscribe to our YouTube channel to see videos from all our travels. Thanks!




Turtle Lake in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

Saturday in Saigon and we slept in to fight our jetlag. So in the early afternoon we left the comfort of the hotel to confront the chaos that is downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Armed with a simple map we navigated the foreign street names and hordes of motorbikes. Just crossing the street in Saigon can be a harrowing experience. Taxes on imported cars are extremely high in Vietnam, making them a luxury for the wealthy while most people get around on motorbikes and scooters. To cross the street, forget about looking both ways and waiting. There aren’t many breaks in traffic. Thus, the best approach is to step out into traffic and let the motorbikes flow around you like water as you confidently walk at a steady pace. The motorists are adept at avoiding pedestrians, but they will still honk at you as they swerve around.

Most of the main attractions of Saigon are within walking distance of our hotel. We saw some old French colonial buildings, including the grand central post office and the majestic Notre Dame cathedral (we call it Notre Dame East). We spent a bit of time walking through the huge Ben Thanh Market, a permanent indoor market selling everything from silly souvenirs and silk scarves to fresh squid (Rose really enjoyed the smell of fresh seafood in the wet market area). We walked to Turtle Lake, a large round about area with a pond and sculpture garden in the middle. We almost got an apartment in this area on AirBnb but opted for the livelier backpacker district and a more conventional hotel.


Notre Dame Cathedral in downtown Saigon.

We then saw the Reunification Palace, formerly the seat of the inept and corrupt South Vietnamese government. This is the spot where the North Vietnamese tanks famously broke through the gate and officially liberated Saigon on April 30, 1975. This was two years after the end of American military involvement in Vietnam. The fall of Saigon happened faster than American officials predicted and thus a comprehensive evacuation plan for the tens of thousands of South Vietnamese who had aided the Americans during the war was nonexistent. The airport had fallen, and so in late April 1975 countless South Vietnamese tried to escape by any means necessary, often boarding dangerously overcrowded or dilapidated boats as the Vietcong army closed in around Saigon. The American embassy arranged for helicopters to airlift people to the US ships anchored in the sea outside Saigon. The need was too great however, as thousands of South Vietnamese stormed the embassy desperate to escape. The last chopper lifted off from the roof of the embassy with the US ambassador and his staff aboard. The thousands of South Vietnamese below were left to fend for themselves; many of them were killed in “re-education camps”.

After seeing the Reunification Palace, we walked back to Bui Vien Street and found a restaurant where we ate a quick meal and watched the people and motorbikes stream by. We went back to the hotel and took a nap, still coping with a bit of jetlag. We woke up around 9pm and then headed out onto Bui Vien to have a few drinks.

The street was buzzing with activity as backpackers from all over the world and locals as well gathered to mingle. We found a table right near the street where we could watch the people stream by. A few fellow travelers sat down at the table next to us and soon we had pushed our tables together and were exchanging tales of travel.  There was Brian from Oregon, Jori from Sweden and Liam, Anette and Paul from England (okay, so his name really wasn’t Paul but he kinda looked like Paul Rudd so we called him that). It was fascinating hearing everyone’s travel stories. Notably, 19 year old Liam was doing a gap year and had been all over the world.


For you Americans, a gap year is taking the year between high school and university to travel the world. It’s popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  This needs to be a thing in America; I think it could go a long ways in improving the often myopic view of the world that most young Americans have (my past self included). His favorite country so far was Myanmar, largely untainted by the West. He had also been to Africa and South America. Brian, the American was also well traveled and was heading north up the entire length of Vietnam before meeting his parents in Calcutta, India and then heading to the Taj Mahal in Agra.

We exchanged some stories about the Angkor temples in Cambodia, definitely one of my favorite spots on this planet. Annette and Paul had just come from Koh Samui in Thailand where they witnessed the aftermath of a car bomb on the small tropical island. Rose and I were very glad that we had chosen to avoid this politically unstable area. We were, after all, in Malaysia which borders Thailand during the coup in 2014. Jori was in Vietnam for a few weeks before returning to Sweden.

The beers and cocktails were super cheap and we kept them flowing. We moved to another bar down the street with even larger, stronger drinks. I have a vague fuzzy memory of a Vietnamese guy dressed in full body black spandex running around the street like a ninja.


Things were getting crazy. It was 4am. I thought I read that the bars in Saigon close at 1am. Apparently this isn’t strictly enforced. It was time to pass out. We exchanged contact info with our new friends and stumbled down the street to our hotel. The poor night worker at our hotel who we had awoken the night before upon our late arrival was a good sport as we woke him up to let us in. Okay, so the night before we had scheduled a day trip to the Mekong Delta that was to depart in a couple of hours. There was no way we were going to make it. I told the hotel worker who had arranged the trip that we were “ill.”


Vietninja time.

Unfortunately, most of the day Sunday was spent recovering. We had sacrificed one day in Saigon for one crazy-ass night. I’m not proud of this and I don’t recommend it. We managed to find a McDonalds at lunch to quench our hangover with greasy American burgers and fries. Then we went back to sleep for a bit. Feeling a bit better after our nap, we headed back onto the street to find some food. We ate at Baba’s kitchen and it was some great authentic Indian food. Tandoori chicken and garlic naan finally got rid of my hangover. After dinner Rose and I walked around a bit more, enjoying being sober. After returning to the hotel I found a soccer game (there’s always at least two games on TV in Vietnam; awesome) before going to bed. I managed to reschedule our Mekong Delta trip thanks to the nice front desk lady at our hotel. So after a great night’s rest we are ready to escape the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City and see the countryside of Vietnam. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Hey everyone, I’m sitting in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) recovering a bit from our travels to get here. We left Iowa City Thursday morning and headed toward Moline. I got my first twinge of anxiety when we got on the road toward the airport. No heading back now! Katie dropped us off and took the customary pre-departure photo of Rose and I. Once inside the airport we attempted to get our boarding passes but the somewhat incompetent worker couldn’t figure out how to get us all of our boarding passes. She told us we’d had to pick up our next boarding pass in Chicago. After looking at our itinerary we realized we had no time to do this in Chicago because we had a very narrow window to catch our next flight. So we stood in line again and made her figure out her mistakes (which she finally did). Boarding passes in hand we headed to our gate and noticed that our flight to Chicago was delayed by 25 minutes. This did not bode well for our incredibly tight window of time.

After a half-hour flight to Chicago we were literally sprinting through O’hare to the international terminal drawing the stares of the other travelers. Rose was in flip flops which made this difficult! Of course, our gate was at the VERY END of the international terminal. We ran up to the counter and the very nice lady said the plane has boarded but we can still get you on. Woot! Then she noticed that the bridge had already been removed. It was too late! Flight = missed. I looked out of the floor to ceiling windows at the jet right outside and loudly cursed. So close, yet so far. We had missed the flight by 30 seconds.

The nice lady at the counter spent the next 20 minutes arranging another set of flights for us. Instead of going through Tokyo we would now go through Hong Kong and arrive in Saigon just two hours later than we had planned. We also got upgraded to economy premium seats. Perhaps missing that flight was a blessing in disguise.  The Cathay Pacific flight was about 15 hours. I watched the new Hobbit movie which was drastically and almost comically different from the book. Rose watched some old 90’s rom coms. The rest of the flight I just tried to sleep, which was often difficult due to the small child kicking the back of my seat. We took an arc up over Alaska and Siberia before crossing China and landing on the Chinese (but politically autonomous) island of Hong Kong. The lights of the island were brilliant below and I wished that we had some time to explore this place as we had done in Tokyo on a long layover back in 2012.


We saw some neat textiles and artifacts right in the terminal in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong airport was nice and we spent some time checking out some Chinese artifacts and costumes in the spacious terminal. The airport had free wifi so we took the chance to tell everyone we were alive and slated to arrive in Saigon just after midnight. I also quickly did some last minute research about Saigon taxi scams and the Vietnamese currency, the Dong. The two hour flight over the South China Sea to Saigon was short and sweet, and I surveyed the sprawling city lights of Saigon as we came to land at the airport. I couldn’t help thinking about how this same airport brought in so many American troops and supplies during the war, yet was utterly useless in evacuating the desperate South Vietnamese during the fall of Saigon in 1975.


About to touch down in Saigon.

The airport was pretty nice and I think arriving a bit later helped us out. We had to wait for about ten minutes for our visas and five minutes to get through immigration. I exchanged some greenbacks for some Dongs (don’t giggle). The exchange rate is a bit wonky: 1 USD is about 21,000 Dong. “This is going to challenge my mental math” I thought, as I thumbed through my notes with denominations of 500,000 ($23) all the way down to 2000 ($.09). Each colorful note has a portrait of Ho Chi Minh himself, the de facto leader of the North Vietnamese during the wars (The Vietnamese fought a long struggle against French colonial powers during the decades before the “American War” as it is known here). Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately known, died of heart failure before he could ever see his country reunified and the city of Saigon renamed in his honor. He’s now embalmed and on display in Hanoi, the capital in the North, in a giant concrete mausoleum (despite his wishes to have his ashes scattered in the rice paddies near where he was born).


Uncle Ho is on all the Vietnamese Dong notes.

We left the airport and I grabbed a taxi – one of two reputable companies that won’t scam you – but I still watched the meter closely. The city was still somewhat bustling for being after midnight. I saw young adults in a park playing guitar and munching on street food. Bars and restaurants were still serving food and drinks. I saw many billboards celebrating the 40th anniversary of the “liberation” of Saigon. The streets were beautiful, with flowers and greenery along the side of the road and draped across the street. We arrived in Bui Vien Street where we were to stay. This is the backpacker area and was still humming with energy (except for our hotel, where a guy was sleeping on a cot and had to be awoken so we could check in). We got into our room which was quite nice and then went for a quick stroll to a convenience store down the street. Bui Vien is a bustling street lined with restaurants, bars and shops. We grabbed some snacks and a couple beers and headed back to our room to finally rest. I had a few Tiger beers (which now make me feel right at home anywhere in Asia I go) and I watched a soccer game on TV before passing out.
Now it’s time to head out on foot and start exploring this fascinating city.


This billboard and many others are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Saigon.


Stay tuned!



Part 1: About the pass

(skip to Part 2 part if you have the pass and are having problems)

For our upcoming trip to SE Asia in May, Rose and I decided to go for AirAsia’s new ASEAN pass. This pass allows travel between all the ASEAN member nations (Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Philippines). There are two types of passes. The first costs US$160 for 10 credits redeemable in a 30 day window. The second, costing US$290 allows for 20 credits used over a 60 day period. Flights cost either 1 or 3 credits. Generally, flights of 2 hours or less are 1 credit each way. Other flights that are longer distances cost 3 credits (e.g. Kuala Lumpur to Yangon). Here is a link to a chart with cost in credits for all available flights with the ASEAN pass. NOTE: As of this post not all flights are available with the ASEAN pass! I will discuss this in detail in Part 2.

The passes only cover the cost of the base fare and do not cover airport fees and taxes, so it took a bit of calculation to figure out if the ASEAN pass was right for us. In order to determine if it was a good deal, I added up the total costs of the flights I would need to take WITHOUT the ASEAN pass. I recorded the total costs as well as the taxes and fees for each flight. (see screenshot below)


Click here to download the spreadsheet I used to calculate these costs. 

Because the cost of the ASEAN pass ($160) plus the taxes and fees total ($70.94) was less than the cost of all flights without the pass ($230.94 vs $304.61), we decided to go with the pass. Another thing to consider is that the cost of the flights tend to increase as the time of the flight draws nearer. The ASEAN pass is not affected by these fluctuations in price because you simply use the credit system.

A few other things to keep in mind before you make the plunge and buy these passes

  • NOT ALL FLIGHTS WILL BE AVAILABLE (AS OF THE TIME OF THIS WRITING) – Rose and I are basically having to replan our trip to SE Asia because of the availability of the routes on this pass
  • Credits can only be used in a 30/60 day window that begins after the departure of your first flight booked with the pass
  • Credits can only be redeemed 14 days or more before the departure date of the flight (i.e. no last-minute flights with the ASEAN pass)
  • Does not include baggage charges (AirAsia charges for all checked luggage – I’d recommend packing light and not checking any luggage)
  • Each route can only be redeemed ONCE (i.e you can’t fly KUL to SGN, SGN to KUL, and then KUL to SGN again – no repeat routes with this pass)
  • Must be 12 years or older to use the ASEAN pass

So the AirAsia ASEAN pass can save you some money if you are flying around a lot in this region. But is it worth the trouble?Next, I’ll cover some of the trouble we’ve had so far with these passes, and how to resolve some of them.

Part 2: Problems with the AirAsia ASEAN pass

(Note: We understand this is a difficult time and we send our condolences to the families of the victims of the recent crash. We do not feel this precludes AirAsia from criticism of what we believe to be a seemingly rushed, sub-standard product. We have flown AirAsia many times before and consider ourselves loyal customers. This is why we feel upset with the quality of the ASEAN pass program)

1) Payment Problems

Once we had gotten our ASEAN passes, we were really excited to start redeeming our credits. We were able to purchase the ASEAN passes just fine using a Visa card from here in the United States. However, when the time came to pay for the taxes and fees associated with each ticket, our payments were repeatedly unsuccessful.


We tried multiple credit cards to attempt the purchase, including the card which we used to purchase the ASEAN passes in the first place. We contacted our banks to ensure that they were not cancelling the transaction, but the banks assured us that no transaction was coming through.

We contacted customer service (more on that below) and they were no help at all.

Here’s how Rose finally fixed the problem:

I had entered my Bigshot ID number into both her pass and mine when I signed up for them. This allowed only my pass to work when attempting to redeem credits. Once Rose deleted the Bigshot ID number out of her pass, she was able to redeem her credits as well.

2) Limited Routes and flight times

AirAsia does not allow you to check which flights are available with the pass until after you purchase it. I didn’t think much about this, I naively figured that all the flights I could search for on the main AirAsia page would be up for grabs. Not so.

We had planned a nice trip to Palawan in the Philippines, but there were no flights from Kuala Lumpur to Manila in all of April and May! This seemed really ridiculous as KL is AirAsia’s hub and Manila is a pretty major city. Needless to say, there were no flights from Manila to Palawan either. I felt scammed.

I tweeted @AskAirAsia and asked why there were no flight from KL to Manila. Somewhat miraculously, the next day that route had been added. However, there was only one flight time, which was at 7:30 AM. This time is less than ideal for our itinerary (and our sleep). What’s really frustrating is that on AirAsia’s main site there are five different flights on that day at various times of the day.

They made me feel second-class as an ASEAN pass holder because I couldn’t access those flights.

If your route is unavailable, try tweeting @AskAirAsia.


3) Customer Service

So it was time to contact AirAsia’s customer support. We first tried the live chat option. The first try we waited and waited and then gave up because it was taking too long. We tried later and were more patient, watching our number in the queue slowly come up. Finally we spoke with a representative. We explained the problem and were told that we needed to submit an e-form with a screenshot of the page where it says the payment is unsuccessful. We submitted an e-form explaining the issue and received an automated email message stating that:

“Our Customer Care team is now looking into the issue. We will provide a more substantive response to your problem and an appropriate resolution within 14 days. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us”

14 days?! Holy crap, we wanted to be done booking our hotels by that time! We received another email message two days later:

“Thank you for writing to AirAsia. In response to your email, kindly retry to perform another booking for Asean pass. If you still facing the same issue kindly furnish us with screenshot for further investigation.”

Wow. I hadn’t thought to just retry. So I retried and whattyaknow.. still didn’t work. SO I sent another screenshot of the error screen.

A day or two later (while waiting for a response from the other e-form) Rose randomly tried to buy a ticket from her work computer. And it worked (this is because she bought the ticket on my pass). So now I had a ticket from Saigon to Kuala Lumpur but Rose couldn’t get hers. We had redeemed 1 of our credits and needed to redeem 19 more total. This was going to be a nightmare!

The night after we were able to redeem our 1 flight, I received another email message regarding my e-form:

“In regard to your email, please kindly be informed that you proceed to https://aseanpass.airasia.com/ to check on the status of your AirAsia Asean Pass. However, you must log in to your member account before proceeding with the website. Should you need any further assistance, please submit online form (http://www.airasia.com/my/en/e-form.page). For simple inquiry, please feel free to check our AskAirAsia portal at (http://www.airasia.com/ask/) or follow us at our Twitter account, or approach our Live Chat service available from 0800 to 2000hours (GMT+8). Thank you for choosing AirAsia. Have a nice day!”

So basically, they sent me a link to the login page and reminded me I needed to log in before attempting to redeem my credits. I was pissed. Eventually, Rose figured the problem out, not these guys.

Stay tuned… updates to come!

We will be updating this blog post based on the resolution to these issues. We are keeping our fingers crossed for flights to Palawan from Manila with the ASEAN pass. Good luck on your travels!

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Google Earth is a geographic visualization program that uses real satellite and aerial imagery, as well as 3D models to create the ultimate interactive digital globe.

I’ve used Google Earth a lot to create cool visualizations related to my research as a geographer, but honestly the best use I’ve found for Google Earth is related to travel. I’ll be going over some of the basics of Google Earth in this post and showing how it can really inspire you to travel, help plan your trip, and even allow you to document and share your journey. If you don’t have it already, Google Earth is free and can be downloaded here.

Let’s get started!

(Philosophical preamble to commence) 

When you open up Google Earth, you’ll see our beautiful planet, ready to be explored. Take a brief moment to contemplate how the earth is a single connected unit against the cold vastness of space. Although the differences between cultures and creeds on this small planet may seem vast, all humans share the same desires such as happiness and love. Travel allows us to discover the importance of diversity while also feeling connected by our commonalities.

Phew, now that we have that out of the way, let’s check out the Google Earth Interface!

(Note: If you’re already pretty familiar with Google Earth, feel free to skip ahead to a more advanced section for pro tips related to travel)


1. Menu

At the top-right of your Google Earth screen is the menu. Honestly, you won’t need to do much up here if you’re exploring and planning a trip. Many of the functions are easier to perform by right-clicking to access the menu (on your Places, for example) or using the Toolbar icons. There are some menu options that are worth pointing out however:

View > Reset > Tilt/Compass/Tilt & Compass – Google Earth automatically rotates the compass a bit as you explore. You can reset the compass to due North here. If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can push this down and move the mouse up or down to change the tilt – or the angle of view. You can reset this tilt to a straight-down view. You can also reset both the tilt and compass from this location in the menu.

Tools > Enter Flight Simulator – This is a fun tool that let’s you enter flight mode from your current view or from an airport of your choosing. Select either the F-16 or SR22 and enjoy the view. I like to use this mode to get a birds-eye view of an area I want to visit. Because let’s face it, I’m never going to really be able to fly around the temples of Angkor Wat.

View > Explore > Earth/Sky/Mars/Moon – Okay, so this isn’t exactly related to planning for travel (yet…), but it sure is fun to explore the Milky Way or the surface of Mars. Check out the spot on the Moon where humans took their first steps (or was it a giant leap?).

2. Search

This is where you type in the place you’d like to explore. It can be anything from a country, village, national park, hotel, store, attraction etc. The search bar will guess what you’re typing so usually you won’t have to type the whole name out. Hit the Search button to fly to that location. You can click anywhere in the Main Screen to stop the zoom flight to that location.

3. Places and Placemarks

This is the area where you can store places that you’ve visited in Google Earth. I’d recommend creating different folders to keep your Places organized. Right-click on the My Places and then Add > Folder. Create a useful name that will let you know the contents of that folder, such as Europe Trip 2015.

Now let’s add a Place to this folder. Let’s say that you searched for Dubrovnik, or perhaps (more conventionally) Paris. With your newly created Europe Trip 2015 folder selected, click the Add Placemark icon – the yellow pushpin icon in the Toolbar. Alternatively, you could right click on the folder and Add > Placemark. Name your Placemark something meaningful when the window pops up and hit OK.

When adding Places keep in mind that the exact view you see is the view that will be saved. So feel free to adjust the tilt, compass, and altitude to capture a stunning view. You can double-click a Place to zoom back to that Place’s exact view. In order to change the location of a Placemark, right-click it and go to Properties. While the properties box is up you will be able to drag the Placemark to relocate it.

When you have multiple folders, it is possible to drag your Places to different folders. Just drag and drop the Place on the folder name. As you acquire more places it will be helpful to keep the folders you’re not using collapsed. To expand or collapse a folder use the small arrow icon to the left of the folder name.

 4. Layers

The Layers area allows you to turn on or off the various labels and icons that populate your view. If you’re looking for a more natural view of the earth as you explore, you could turn most or all of these off by clicking the check box. I really enjoy turning the Photos layer on once I get zoomed into a specific destination. This allows you to view geo-located, user-submitted images. I’d also recommend exploring some famous landmarks like Ayasofya or Petra with the 3D Buildings box checked. I find this a fun way to get excited and educated about the place I’m going to visit.

5. Toolbar

The main function in the Toolbar you will use now is the Add Placemark tool. You can also hide the sidebar with the button on the left. Another somewhat useful tool is the ruler which allows you to measure distances. You can measure a series of line segments by clicking repeatedly on the map. This is useful for planning a road trip or a walking tour. There are also options for drawing geographically referenced lines and polygons which can be exported into advanced programs such as ArcMap.

6. Main Window

Here is where you’ll do your exploring. You can also enter full-screen mode from the View menu. At the bottom of the Main Window you can view interesting details about the imagery you are viewing such as the date the images were captured, elevation above sea level, and viewing elevation.

7. Navigation tools

These tools can help you navigate Google Earth, but many of these functions can be done with your mouse if you’re using one with a scroll wheel. The scroll wheel allows you to zoom in and out and (when pushed) tilt up and down. The circular icon at the top represents the cardinal directions North, East, West, and South. You can grab the “N” icon to rotate the direction. The circle with the eye icon can be clicked and dragged to change the tilt of your view. The hand icon below is used to pan around the map. The person icon can be clicked and dragged onto any point on the map to view a ground-level perspective of that location. The bottom bar icon can be used to zoom in and out.

Get Inspired by Exploring

Think of a place you’ve been wanting to visit. Maybe it’s a place that you learned about in childhood and have always dreamed of seeing. Maybe it’s a place you saw Anthony Bourdain visiting the other night on Parts Unknown. Wherever it is, enter it into the search bar and fly there in Google Earth.

I always love seeing how a city is situated among the physical geography of the landscape as you zoom in. The way a river bisects the city or the mountains contain it to a valley. I find this perspective helpful and orientating when actually visiting the place in person.


Exploring the physical geography near Interlaken, Switzerland


As you zoom in further to your destination, I’d recommend turning on Borders and Labels, Places, and perhaps the Road Layers. Now you can browse the aerial image of your destination for major landmarks and roadways to begin to get orientated. If you notice a landmark you’re interested in, turn on the Photos Layers and have a peek at some of the pictures which other travelers have submitted.

I like to tilt the view a bit and zoom into the city center or other interesting area. If you have the 3D Buildings Layer activated you may notice some major buildings popping out.


Downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This is a good way to get to know the neighborhoods or sectors of a city. Then you can begin to think about what area of the city you’d like to find a hotel. As you explore these places, or different views of a single place, add Placemarks to your folder. This way you can begin to build a list of places and sights you would like to see. These Placemarks are necessary for creating a Tour, which we will go over below.

Adding Hyperlinks, Pictures and More to Placemarks

Placemarks can be customized in many ways. To access these options right-click on a Placemark (either in the Places menu or the Main Window) and click Properties. To change the icon of the Placemark click on the pushpin icon to the right of the name. Hyperlinks can be added by clicking the Add link button.

Images can be added as well but need to be online images with a URL. If you find an image you would like to use using a Google Images search for example, right click the image and click Copy Image URL (or similar depending on your browser). Then simply paste this URL into Image URL field.

You can change the style and color of the text from the default. Also, you can change the view and altitude, but if you’ve already found a good view for your Placemark don’t mess with this.

Creating a Tour in Google Earth

Method 1

Now that you’ve explored your destinations, found awesome views and saved them as Placemarks in a folder, it’s time to create a tour. Make sure you have all your Placemarks you’d like to have in your tour in the same folder!

  • Uncheck Layers such as Photos and Places if you’d like a more natural, realistic looking tour
  • Select the Folder in Places where your Placemarks are saved
  • Press the icon which looks like a folder with a play button at the bottom of Places (circled below)
  • tourbutton

    Click here with the proper folder selected to start your tour

  • This will begin the tour starting from the location listed first. The tour will pause for a moment on each destination before zooming to the next
  • You can use the pause/play button in the Main Window to pause the tour – you can then click on your Placemark to see the image and/or link associated with it
  • You can save the tour by right-clicking on the folder and clicking Save Place As. Either kml or kmz format will work for saving your tour
  • Now you can send your places to friends and family who use Google Earth by simply emailing or otherwise sharing the kml or kmz file

Method 2

The second way to create a tour in Google Earth is less automated but allows you to control the view and record your voice along with what you’re viewing. Here’s how:

  • Uncheck Layers such as Photos and Places if you’d like a more natural, realistic looking tour
  • Click the video camera icon in the Toolbar
  • A small window will pop up in the bottom-left of the Main Window with two icons – a red record button and a microphone
  • Click the microphone icon to record your voice along with what you are viewing in Google Earth
  • Click the red record icon to record only what you are viewing without narration
  • After clicking either button, everything you do in Google Earth will be recorded
  • You can search or click on Placemarks during recording to zoom to locations
  • When you push the record button again recording will stop and your tour will play back
  • Click the disc icon to save your recording to your Places
  • You can export this tour by right-clicking and hitting Save Place As
  • Share your tour with friends and family

Google Earth’s virtual tours are a great way to share a potential itinerary with friends and family. They can also be super useful for documenting a trip you’ve just taken. Simply create a Placemark for each of your destinations and put them all in one folder and hit play. Or use method 2 to manually fly and pan to each location, relying on your newly acquired knowledge of that area’s geography.

For another useful travel tool be sure to check out the YTP Trip Calculator, a spreadsheet I created that let’s you easily plan and budget your trip. It’ll do all the math for you and create an easy-to-read pie chart of estimated expenses. Best of all, it’s free!








Thank you and safe travels everyone!